By: Aaron Wissen, CHST

Is it possible for someone to be compliant, and still be unsafe?  If someone is being safe, are they compliant?  The line between the two can often become blurred when working in the construction industry.  Sometimes, it’s the fault of the individual for utilizing safety equipment and devices in ways they were never intended to be used.  Other times, the fault lies with the company for not supplying the appropriate equipment to their employees to do the job safely.  Either way, the hazards these individuals and companies are exposed to are still very real.

Remember, OSHA regulations outline the minimum requirements, yet sometimes fall short of ensuring employee safety and controlling risk to the company.  Companies and employees need to understand the balance between protecting the individuals/company and maintaining compliance.  As employees become more knowledgeable and experienced, most realize that the OSHA regulations are minimal and could expose themselves, co-workers and the company to potential harm if not followed as intended.   Expanding training to include industry best practices or even implementing more stringent policies for your company can help mitigate some of these situations.  Keep this in mind….a compliant employee might ask, “what can we do to get by?” When a safe person might ask, “what can we do to stay safe?”

In most cases, the employer provides safety equipment to the employees, expecting them to be able to utilize the equipment for most applications without fail.  For instance, several fall protection systems are multi-functional and are capable of being reused as long as there are no defects.  These multi-functional systems may work well in a few areas, but there are application limitations to all pieces of safety equipment.  Employees need to be trained not only on how to perform their work task safely, but also on what their safety equipment is capable of doing and, more importantly, not capable of doing.

Employees have to be taught and trained on how to do things safely, but they have to exhibit those practices when they are in the field.  Every company spends time training their employees, in one capacity or another.  These trainings though are often conducted until employees get it right, when training should be conducted until employees can’t get it wrong.  This allows for questions to be addressed, to discuss inspection requirements and procedures, and/or perform a demonstration or role play.  Waiting for an employee to ask a question regarding the use of their equipment is dangerous for themselves and the company.

Companies also need to ensure that employees are following company safety procedures and OSHA regulations.  How a company chooses to enforce and correct any deficiencies will determine what kind of culture is established.  Deficiencies obviously need to be corrected, but utilize these moments to provide some one-on-one or small group training to those employees at the time of discovery.  This provides real case scenarios for employees to reflect and pull from, rather than hypothesizing a solution that could jeopardize themselves or the company in the future.